The Napoleonic invasion of Spain in 1808 which sought, in effect, to impose the progressive ideals of the French Revolution on the socially conservative Spanish Empire at the point of a gun, set off a long tug of war between traditionalists and liberals within the Spanish leadership class.
While over the ensuing six decades the insurgent liberals, or afrancesados (frenchified ones) as the conservatives derisively called them, would occasionally nose their way into the country’s central precincts of power, their presence in these places were generally short-lived, and the results of the reforms they enacted while there, mostly ephemeral.
This dynamic changed dramatically in 1868 when a progressive army officer named Prim forced the abdication of the conservative Queen Isabel II, and installed a constitutional monarchy under the aegis Amadeo of Savoy, imported to the country by Prim after a pan-European search, to serve as the figurehead for his progressive project.
But mere days before Amadeo was to formally assume the throne, Prim was assassinated in a murder that remains unsolved to this day. Deprived of the support of the man who had led the revolution, Amadeo floundered, and after an attempt on his life and several other insults to his person, fled back his home to Turin.
For the more radical elements of the Spanish left, the failure of the reformist constitutional monarchy could mean only one thing: it was time to double down and declare a republic. And not only a republic, but a federal one. This, in the country that had essentially invented and first put into practice the concept of the centralized ethnically homogenous nation-state.
Moreover, the key intellectual driver of the new Federal Republic and one of its future presidents, Francisco Pi i Margall, decided, in keeping with his veneration for the ideas of the French proto-anarchist Proudhon, that the shape and nature of the constituent elements of the new, decentralized republic would be determined not in Madrid, but at the local level in according to the spontaneous desires of local citizenries.
This resulted in the birth of an endless series of local “republics” that fought with each other and against the relatively timid attempts of the central government to force them to align their politics with its broadly conceived national goals.
Not surprisingly after only 11 months and four presidents, the Spanish Federal Republic died, replaced first by a militarily-led centralist one, and very shortly thereafter, by a restored Bourbon monarchy.
What Pi and his highly intellectual collaborators forgot, or perhaps never learned, is that most people cannot happily and productively conduct their lives on the basis of abstract intellectual concepts that are openly contemptuous of historical precedent and existing customs, no matter how much “bright people” tell them those concepts are for the onward progress of the species.
There can be no doubting the attractiveness, at least for some, of Pi’s idea of constantly changing and self-renewing social contracts.
But what such an idea does not address is the human need for stability, which is to say, the human need to retreat from the exhausting task of inventing and making in order to rest, secure in the knowledge that the world he takes a break from at night is more or less going to be the same one he will find upon waking tomorrow.
Nor does it take into account man’s inherent “religious impulse;” (not to be confused with subscribing to a religion) that is, his desire in the midst of an often fragmented experience of life to seek experiences and symbols that invite him to transcend the sometimes suffocating crush of day-to-day life and envision unifying ideas and common labors that effectively relieve him of his frequent feelings of individual smallness and impotence.
Or to return to the context of 1870s Spain, can you imagine suddenly telling a hard-working peasant that the king or queen he had been told connected him in a positive way with all the glories of the Spanish past was gone, and that the church in which he worshiped and had been told was a key guarantor of his country’s supposedly exceptional performance in the world was nothing but a big grift, and that from now on, the government in his community would carry out constant re-evaluations of its cooperation (or not) with both its territorial neighbors and the central government with whose imperial mission he had long been taught to identify?
Confusing and exhausting, no?
That all of the critiques of the previous order marshaled to justify these changes might have some truth, or might in fact be flat-out true, still would not alleviate the enormous sense of anxiety that many in the population no doubt experienced before these brusque alterations of the structure of their world.
It is increasingly apparent that the self-nominated progressives of our time share their Spanish ideological ancestor’s disdain for the human need for social stability and the desire to form part of a compelling social project.
We see it in their obsession with dividing people up by race, gender, and sexual preference, in their often frequent disdain for traditional social and familial structures, and their absurd war on the self-evident sexually dimorphous nature of human species.
And, of course, we see it in their approach to immigration into the country.
There has always been a minority of human beings in every society disposed to uprooting themselves in search of increased freedom and/or prosperity. Indeed, without such people much of what we commonly refer to as human progress would have been very difficult to achieve.
But the desirability of these injections of outside social elements must—as is the case of the consumption of wine—always be measured against their potentially negative effects on the homeostasis of the complex “organism” charged with absorbing them. With two glasses you get a nice buzz and an enhanced appreciation of food. With six, you pass out and find yourself unable to function the next day. And so it is with human flows into established nation-states.
Though the proponents of, and silent assenters to, the government’s current open door immigration policy seldom if ever articulate the strategic goals of their massive non-enforcement of existing laws and regulations, it seems clear that it is part and parcel of the broader effort (see comments above on identity politics) of decentering and eventually fully discrediting key institutions and matrices of our culture to the point where they need to be wholly replaced by shiny new ones derived—you guessed it—from the new and improved™ concepts of our elite ideologues.
And as for the millions of existing citizens whose lives get turned upside-down in the process?
Well, as our betters regularly tell us without actually saying it, that’s a small price to pay for the much better and more just world that—according to their a priori assumptions of course—they have planned for us.
However, as tempting as it is for me to sign off now and bask in the approving huzzahs of the more Republican-aligned elements of our readership, I can’t and I won’t.
And that’s because my intellectual engagement with the issue of immigration into the US didn’t begin with the advent of the Biden administration, or even in the beginning of the first term of the Obama presidency, but back during the administration of Bush Sr. when, as a graduate student, I took a job as a community outreach organizer for an immigration advocacy organization in Providence, RI.
Though my primary job was to explain available naturalization procedures to local immigrant communities in Spanish and Portuguese, this task was regularly interrupted by the need to help out in the organization’s drives to enroll undocumented immigrants into semi-legal status under the terms of the 1990 Temporary Protective Status (TPS) act, designed mostly for Liberian and Salvadoran refugees, and to vet the records of those who, hope against hope, were trying to retroactively squeeze themselves into legal status under the 1986 immigration amnesty (IRCA) promulgated by the Reagan administration which legalized more than 3 million illegals with the stroke of the pen.
This work mostly revolved around reviewing paycheck stubs and apartment leases. And it was upon seeing the sub-minimum wage amounts being paid to these immigrants for 50- and 60-hour weeks, mostly working with dangerous metals at Rhode Island’s historically important jewelry industry, that I began to put the pieces together.
I realized that waging war on Central American countries on contrived pretexts in a way that would insure a steady flow of refugees toward the north was big business. It gave US manufacturing sectors, like Rhode Island’s jewelry industry, a huge instant boost to their bottom line, and had the longer-term effect of exerting strong downward pressure on the wages of native-born US workers, which of course severely crimped their possibilities of upward mobility and, over the longer run, hollowed out their once stable middle and lower-middle class communities.
If I had any remaining doubts about my theory, they were dismissed when, to my surprise, the director of our agency announced that the members of the local INS office would be visiting us so that we could explain to them the intricacies of the latest laws and regulations approved in Washington..
You read that right.
The local INS office was dependent on a pro-immigrant social service agency for its basic understanding of the laws it was supposed to be enforcing. When the visit finally came, their absolute disinterest in what we were telling about the laws and regs was palpable. It was clear that they weren’t taking their enforcement duties very seriously.
Maybe I’ve missed it, but I’ve very seldom, if ever, seen any of the Republicans now furiously, and rightfully, worked up about the current collapse of our sudden border under the Joe Chernenko administration reference these Reagan and Bush Sr. era policies that effectively made a steady stream of illegal immigrants from poor countries a fundamental feature of our economic system, and from there implicitly, of the business plans of their enthusiastic “pro-growth” voters.
Nor have I heard any of them apologize to the millions of people whose once-thriving communities collapsed around them owing to the immigration-induced collapse of the wage floor beneath their feet .
What I see, in fact, are many of the same people who supported all this (I’m looking at Mitch McConnell and his swamp confreres) being constantly perplexed by the amount of wrath directed at them by the emergent Trump base of their party.
So yes, it is undoubtedly true that since the French Revolution, if not before, the political Left has been plagued by an unfortunate tendency to impose unproven and abstract new ideas upon society through coercive means. They generally do so because they, not entirely wrongly, see tradition mostly in terms of its ability to stymie man’s ceaseless gift for improving (or is it divinizing?) himself and the overall condition of the world.
While those on the right are generally more deferential to the crucial importance communities and their traditions play in guaranteeing social stability and personal happiness, they are not without their own proclivity from heedlessly imposing damaging abstractions on the very people they claim to most care about and support.
The idea that by keeping wages low and profits high through illegal immigration, they would contribute to the cohesion and overall health of most of our working class communities over the long run, is a prime example of this fantasy-laden tendency.
If these activists on the right are truly serious about finally bringing order to our admittedly shambolic immigration system, it is essential for the maintenance of their own credibility if nothing else, that they come clean about their very big role in quite purposely breaking it starting in the 1980s and early 90s.
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